Petra James & The Most Ungrateful Girl in the World

Izzy Winkle in The Most Ungrateful Girl in the World (Puffin) is not naturally ungrateful but she needs to become so to enter the Most Ungrateful Girl in the World competition.

In this book you will meet secret agents, a loyal best friend, mud, mystery and a surprising ending.

Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Petra.

I’m thrilled to be here, Joy. Thank you so much for inviting me.

What are your previous books for children?
I’ve written middle-grade fiction titles Hapless Hero Henrie –the story of the first girl born into a House of Heroes in 200 years, the Arkie Sparkle: Treasure Hunter series; and two interactive picture books: I Love my Mum Because and I Love my Dad Because.

How is The Most Ungrateful Girl in the World a change in direction for you?

I think I explored my subversive side in this book, and discovered how much fun it was to write about woefully behaved characters (children and adults) such as Horace Unthank, Daphne du Bois, Nit Girl and Petal Kettle.

Could you tell us about your character, Izzy Winkle? Why is she entering the Ungrateful Girl competition? How is she pulled in different ways?

Izzy really wants to be good at something. Her best friend Katie Skittle is a genius, and sets a cracking pace in life, and Izzy desperately wants to keep up with her. Because Izzy’s naturally grateful, she thinks it will be easy to be ungrateful: she just has to say and do the opposite of everything she usually says and does. But things turn out to be a little more behaviourally complex than that …

Izzy’s best friend, Katie, has an interesting role. How much or little focus have you put on her?

If you asked Katie this question, she’d say she had a pivotal role in the story. She’s brainy and confident and a foil to Izzy. Izzy is a little overshadowed by Katie when the story begins but it’s Izzy’s story and she soon begins to take centre stage (literally).

Who or what have you based your character of Daphne du Bois on?
Daphne du Bois rose up from the page all by herself, demanding more and more space in the story (she is very bossy).  I’ve always loved the name du Bois (there’s a flower called Claire Du Bois) and I thought it sounded suitably refined for the Etiquette Queen of the Southern Hemisphere.

I love the literary allusions of the name of your character, Molly Bloom. Where did this name come from?
Yes, first, I must apologise to James Joyce but ‘Molly’ is one of my favourite names, and the word ‘bloom’ feels like a Tardis to me: full of possibility on the inside; a word to grow into. And Molly Bloom has grown into a different version of herself.

Molly says that she taught Ned how to be more ‘Unthankian’ – “How to dance in the rain and stomp in puddles” and he taught her how to be more ‘Thankian’ – “How to be kind and clean, and how to live the biggest, most grateful life you could”. Could you explain what ‘Unthankian and ‘Thankian’ are? Which are you more like? Which would you hope for your readers?

The two towns of Unthank and Thank – separated by the river Dripple – embody the traits of ungratefulness and gratefulness. I am definitely more Thankian than Unthankian. I love a PLEASE and a THANK YOU and could possibly rival Izzy for the title of The Most Grateful Girl in the World. But, I also love dancing in the rain and stomping in puddles. Molly Bloom says there’s a little bit of both in all of us (except for Horace Unthank. He’s irredeemably Unthankian). I guess I’m saying to readers it’s not natural to be one extreme or the other. Embrace all sides of yourself.

Anna Zobel has illustrated the story. Which is your favourite illustration and why?
I was so thrilled with all of Anna’s illustrations. The detail is delightful: from the supercilious tilt of Daphne du Bois’ nose to the splotches on the Ungrateful Girls. One favourite illustration is Izzy, alone on the stage at the Most Ungrateful Girl in the World competition. Anna has captured the nerves and enormity of this moment beautifully. This illustration makes me feel as if I am standing under the spotlight with Izzy. Feeling as small and scared and as tingly as she does.

What else have you been reading and enjoying recently?
I adored Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee. What an exquisite book. Karen has packed so much heart and humanity into this story. I am in awe of her. I am about to read Max Porter’s Lanny and, having heard him speak, am expecting a mesmerising treat.

Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Petra and all the best with The Most Ungrateful Girl in the World.

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